Today, I’m thinking about what is perhaps the most renowned rug in the world – The Ardebil Carpet. No other carpet has been talked about more, photographed more, and speculated on more! It’s home for the last 130 years or so has been the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
This renowned rug is so-called because it came from the holy mosque in Ardebil, where Shah Ismail and his ancestor, Sheikh Sefi-ud-Din, are buried. On the advice of William Morris, the carpet was acquired by the Victoria and Albert, in 1893, from Vincent Robinson and Co., who had purchased it from Ziegler and Co. in Tabriz.
It contains a fabulous inscription, which is taken from the beginning of an ode by the famous Persian poet, Hafiz:
“I have no refuge in the world other than thy threshold.
There is no protection for my head, other than this door.”
The work of the slave of the threshold
Maqsud of Kashan, in the year 946
The Ardebil Carpet is one of the great carpets of the world. It is also a historical document of great importance, because of its signature and date. It is the nucleus of a group of splendid medallion carpets from the middle of the sixteenth century; as the carpet was woven in 1539, during the 52-year reign of Shah Tahmasp.
The foundation of the rug, its warps, and wefts are of silk. The knot is Persian. It averages approximately 325 knots per square inch. Unlike many of the carpets from the period, it contains no images, either human or animal. This because it was woven to lie in a holy place.
The drawing of the design, as well as its execution, are admirable. All authorities agree that a carpet of such outstanding design and craftsmanship could not have been produced except by a combination of the first designers and craftsmen of the age – most likely in a court factory. And because Tabriz was the capital during part of the reign of Shah Tahmasp, it has been assumed that the carpet was woven there – in a royal factory.
But how could this be? The rug was woven in 1539, long after Tahmasp had moved the capital to Kazvin, fearing attack from the Turks. And that fear was borne out – for in 1533 before the Ardebil was woven, Tabriz fell to the Turks. Would the shah have moved his capital, but left his factory behind? And that the Ardebil Carpet was woven in the factory in Tabriz? One would assume, had that been the case, the carpet would be hanging in a museum in Istanbul, as opposed to the Victoria and Albert.
Tabriz can also be dismissed as its birthplace because rugs woven in Tabriz used the Ghiordes, or Turkish, knot. Was the rug, and others like it, woven in Kazvin, during its time as the capital? Possibly, but would expect there to be some record, some vestige, or some tradition would remain…yet nothing does. Ardebil, itself, is a remote possibility. Maqsud could have brought his weavers, set up looms, to weave rugs for the mosque. But we again are met by a total absence of tradition.
Finally, the Ardebil may have been woven in Kashan. After all, the weaver was Maqsud of Kashan. But in a country where surnames did not exist, the birthplace following the given name was merely a means of identification. It did not mean that Maqsud lived and pursued his craft in Kashan. But Kashan undoubtedly possesses a claim, as against Tabriz, Ardebil, or Kazvin, as the birthplace of this famous carpet.
But, at the expense of weariness, we must let the matter rest. To assert its origin, even with a date and signature, would be a fool’s errand. We just do not know. But what we do know is this – that one of the most fantastic exhibits of weaving rests in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. If you ever find yourself there, do not miss an opportunity to see this wonderful carpet!